Taking the Plunge

One Sunday, a young family came to church and sat in the front row so the children could have a clear view of everything.  It happened that on that particular Sunday, the pastor was baptizing a brand new little baby.  The little five-year-old daughter, watching from the front pew, was utterly fascinated by the baptism ceremony, but didn’t really understand what it was all about.  As the pastor began to scoop water from the font and pour it onto the baby’s head, she turned to her father and in a very loud voice asked, “Daddy, why is he brainwashing the baby??”

Baptism isn’t brainwashing, of course, but over a lifetime it is supposed to change the way you think, the way you see the world, and the way you interact with the world.  We baptize people, including babies, as a sign that they are included in God’s grace and in God’s mission to transform the world.  We baptize because Jesus told us to baptize.[1]  And we baptize because Jesus, himself, was baptized.

The baptism of Jesus is covered in all four gospels.  Sort of.  John’s gospel has a scene where Jesus is at the river while John is baptizing, and  John says he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove, but the Gospel of John never actually describes Jesus being baptized.  

My favorite version of the Baptism of Jesus is in the Gospel of Matthew because it starts out with John and Jesus arguing.  Can you imagine it?  There they are, hip deep in the water, and Jesus says to John, “Do you have to dunk me all the way under?  Can’t you just scoop up a handful of water and pour it over my head?” And John says, “Dude!  No!  Are you crazy?  I’m John the Baptist, not John the Episcopalian!”

Actually, what they were arguing about was that John didn’t want to baptize Jesus—at least according to Matthew’s account.  Jesus came to John to be baptized, and Matthew tells us that John would have prevented him.  It didn’t feel right to John.  It didn’t feel appropriate to him because he knew that Jesus was more important than he was.  For him to baptize Jesus seemed upside down and backwards.  “I need to be baptized by you!” he tells Jesus.  

need to be baptized by you.  That’s an interesting choice of words.  The wording in Greek implies that John is lacking something that he thinks Jesus can give him.  What could that be?

Jesus finally persuades John to go ahead and baptize him when he says, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  Today’s English Version translates that as “Let it be so for now. For in this way we shall do all that God requires.”  The Contemporary English Bible says, “For now this is how it should be, because we must do all God wants us to do.”

Basically, Jesus is telling John, “let’s go ahead with this because it’s the right thing to do.”

So there’s another reason we baptize:  it’s the right thing to do.  It’s what God wants us to do.

The word “baptism” comes from the Greek verb baptizein which means “to dip,” or “to dip frequently or intensively, to plunge or to immerse.”[2]  It’s also the verb that’s used to describe putting dressing on a salad, though, so you could say it also means “to sprinkle.”  

Because early Christian baptisms were usually by immersion, some have insisted that you have to be fully immersed or it’s not a real baptism.  But The Didache, a manual for good church practice written in the late 1st or very early 2nd century said, “If you have not living water (running water, such as a stream or river), baptize into other water; and if you cannot in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”  

That practice of pouring out water on the head is called afflusion, by the way, and as The Didache attests, it has been one of the ways the church has baptized people since its earliest days.

Martin Luther described baptism as one of the means of grace through which God creates and strengthens “saving faith.”  He borrowed language from Titus 3:5 to depict baptism as a “washing of regeneration” in which infants and adults are reborn.  In that rebirth, said Luther, we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. 

“Baptism, then,” he went on to say, “signifies two things—death and resurrection, that is, full and complete justification. When the minister immerses the child in the water it signifies death, and when he draws it forth again it signifies life. Thus Paul expounds it in Romans 6: ‘We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.’ This death and resurrection we call the new creation, regeneration, and spiritual birth. This should not be understood only allegorically as the death of sin and the life of grace, as many understand it, but as actual death and resurrection. For baptism is not a false sign.”

In other words, as Luther describes it, we actually die and are resurrected in our baptism.  Life—baptized life—is brand new.

Luther also said that the amount of water is never an issue.  Water is the physical sign of what God is doing in baptism; it is the Word of God that makes baptism effective.  One drop of water is enough because it’s the  Word of God that has all the power.  The water and the Word together become a sign of what Christ has done and is doing for us.  

Baptism is not a sign of my decision for Christ, it is a sign of Christ’s decision for me.  It is a sign of God’s grace—the grace that gives us life, the grace that sustains our life.  By the presence of the living Word, Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us and works through us, that one drop of water can make all the difference in the world.

Baptism isn’t an event, it’s a way of life.  But if our baptism makes one drop of difference in our lives, then we nurture that new life so it can grow and mature. That’s what church is for. That’s what Bible study is for. That’s what prayer and contemplation are for.  But church, prayer, Bible study—these things are not our mission—they are things that prepare us for and empower us for our mission. 

The late Thomas Troeger who taught preaching at Yale Divinity School once said,  “When we follow Jesus into the waters of baptism, we are making a statement, a witness to our desire not only for a new life for our individual selves, but a new life for the whole world. We are renouncing Herod’s action of shutting up John, of shutting up hope, of shutting up the transformation of this world. We are affirming the opening of heaven, the opening of hope, the releasing of God’s renewing power into the world. 

“Every time we have a baptism in our churches, we are making a statement of the same good news that John preached. It is not good news to the Herods of the earth. It is not good news to those who want to shut up the transforming power of God, including those who do it in the name of narrowly doctrinaire religion. But it is good news for everyone who yearns and hungers for a new world, a new creation. When we follow Jesus into the baptismal waters or when we reaffirm our baptismal vows, we are giving testimony that the opening of heaven is greater than any human effort to shut up the power of God.”

What happened for Jesus in his baptism also happens for us in our baptism.  The heavens are opened to us so there is no barrier between us and the presence of God, no barrier between us and each other.  We are told that we are loved.  We are named as children of God in a world that wants to call us all kinds of other names, a world that encourages us to label ourselves in ways that separate us from each other and to name others in a way that separates them from us.  But baptism reminds us that we are all God’s children.  We are all in this together.

Yes, our word baptism does come from the Greek verb which means to immerse.  But what is it that we are immersed into?   The water is an important sign.  It speaks to us physically, spiritually and psychologically in a powerful way.  But what we are being plunged into is the life and love, the vision and mission of the Triune God.

In a world full of bad news, baptism makes us the Good News people.  Our baptism loves us and names us.  The Spirit of God descends on us and into us to empower us and to open our minds and hearts.  And our ears.  In baptism we are given a new identity; we hear God proclaim You are my child.  I am pleased with you.  I like you!  Now…let’s go out and change the world!


[1] Matthew 28:19

[2] Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary

Image by He Qi

The Speed of Life

The path is so familiar, so routine, so customary that her very shoes seem to know the way, which is a good thing since her mind seems to be off on a walk of its own.  Her steps are middling slow, but her thoughts, in her careful, sorting way, are occupied with speed.  Speed of light.  Speed of life.

Sixty-six thousand six hundred fifty-nine.  She thinks it in words but sees it in her mind’s eye as a number: 66,659.  Ever since she heard that number on the radio this morning it has loomed before her, driving out every other thought.  The speaker on the radio—an astronomer? an astrophysicist?—he threw out the number so casually as if it was something everyone already knew.  “Well,” he said, “we’re all moving around the sun at 66,659 miles per hour, so one way or another we’re making progress.”  And they had laughed, the astronomer and the radio host.  And what was that other number?  One thousand forty.  “Don’t forget,” said the astronomer, “that the earth is also rotating on its axis at 1,040 miles an hour at the equator, so nobody really gets to stand still.”

She stands still, or as still as she can given that she is moving around the sun at such a horrendous speed.  Her unfocused eyes do not see the sharp dazzles of sunlight glinting on the bay or the sleek ketch making its way toward the open sea or the pelican diving for an anchovy, or the other walkers on the path or their happy, eager dogs reading the scents that dodge about in the breeze.  She is a million miles away watching her lovely blue-green planet spinning like a dervish, singing itself through space in an endless elliptical tarantella with the sun as she, herself, chases it through space, racing to catch up as it speeds away from her.

The sun wraps her in light, warm and welcoming this close to the solstice, penetrating her long sleeves and wide-brimmed hat, teasing out memories.  You used to let me touch you the sun seems to say.  You used to lie on the beach and bathe in my light.  But that was before the ozone layer had thinned.  That was before skin cancer.  That was before.  That’s the problem with moving through space at 66,659 miles an hour she thinks.  In no time at all it’s all gone by.  In no time at all your ride is over.  She lifts her eyes to the horizon but the sights of the bay on this beautiful, nearly summer day are invisible to her.

She sees a face, that dearly beloved face she misses most, and her breath catches in her throat.  She sees that face she loves in all the ages she had known and loved it.  She sees it young and radiant, framed by chestnut hair, thick and full. She sees it older, rounder, accented by the soft lines of character and hair the color of steel.  She sees it old, thin, worn and weathered, the hair a cirrus cloud of wispy snow.  She sees the old dog they both loved so much, just for a moment out on the path ahead of her, looking back, smiling, then turning to amble on ahead.  She sees old friends, family, companions standing off in the distance, all of them swallowed by the light.

Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  World without end. Amen.  The words come echoing up from the sanctuary of her memories, attached to half-forgotten melodies, rising from the pages of long-disused hymnals.  Oh, Jesus, must it all go by so fast?  Does it ever stop? she wonders.  And suddenly, despite the fact that the whole earth on which she stands is hurtling through space at 66,659 miles an hour, she truly is perfectly still.  No…she realizes, that’s not quite right.  I am not still, she thinks, I have stepped into stillness.  Stillness was waiting for me.  Stillness was waiting for me to stop running through life at 66,659 miles an hour.

And for the first time in this long day that has moved by so fast, she sees what’s in front of her and around her and above her and under her feet.  She sees the path, the friendly dogs, the smiling, chatting walkers, the boats, the birds, the trees, the grass, the sky of this real and present world.  She feels the sunlight on her face.  She feels the caress of the breeze and the gentle kiss of salt in the air.  She sees it, feels it, smells it, tastes it all in a clearer light, everything sharp and distinct, suffused with the Presence of the moment.  And she realizes that this moment is eternal.  That all moments are eternal.  That life is eternal.  She sees that everything and everyone she has ever loved has, indeed, gone on ahead and is, simultaneously, thanks to some divine relativity or theological quantum twist right there beside her.  She takes a deep breath and lets out a sigh of both intense longing and profound peace, and calls out to the old dog that only she can see, “Hang on, buddy.  I’ll catch up.”

God Gets Physical

John 1:1-14

This past week, NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope, a remarkable remote observatory that will travel 1.5 million kilometers, about 3.9 times the distance to the moon, before it parks itself in a Lagrange point—a kind of neutral zone in the tug-of-war between the sun’s gravitational pull and Earth’s gravitational pull.  There it will unfurl its highly polished mirrors made of gold-plated beryllium, and begin to stare deep into space—deeper than we have ever seen before with any other instrument.  As it peers into the depths of space it will also be looking back in time because the light it sees was generated billions of years ago.  It will be able to see celestial events that happened before the earth was formed.

The astrophysicists, astronomers, and engineers who designed and programmed the Webb Space Telescope have given it four primary missions:

  • to search for light from the first stars and galaxies that were formed in the universe after the Big Bang;
  • to study the formation and evolution of galaxies;
  • to study the formation of stars and planetary systems;
  • to study other planetary systems to see if they can tell us anything about the origins of life.

The writer of the Gospel of John didn’t have a telescope, but in a poetic way John did have a clear view of the beginning of all things.  In the beginning was the logos he said.  The Word.  The Blueprint.  The Narrative.  The Story.  The Content.  The logos was with God.  The logos was God.  All things came into being through the logos, and not one thing that came into existence came into existence except through the logos.  

Here in the prologue of John’s gospel, the logos is another term for Christ.  John is telling us about the Cosmic Christ who existed before all things, who is present in, with and under all things because all things came into being through the Christ.  Christ, the logos, is that aspect of the Divine Presence where Spirit intersects with matter.  Christ is in those distant stars and galaxies that the Webb telescope will show us.  Christ is in the giant nebulae and dust pillars that Hubble has shown us, those columns of interstellar dust and gas where stars are born.  Christ is in the quasars and pulsars, the black holes and gravitational waves and dark matter.

But Christ, the logos, is not just in the macrocosm. Christ is also in the microcosm.  Christ is in the strings of string theory.  Christ is in the strange interactions of quantum mechanics where quite literally anything and everything is a possibility.  Christ is in the anomalies of quantum flux. 

The writer of John goes on to tell us that Christ was not only in the inorganic dance of chemistry and physics, but that through the logos, through Christ, life came into being. Through Christ nitrogen and hydrogen and carbon and oxygen came together to form amino acids.  Through Christ amino acids formed long chain proteins which then formed protein blocks which then evolved into single-celled organisms.  Through Christ single-celled organisms bonded to form symbiotic colonies which then evolved to become multi-celled organisms.  Through Christ life began to take on more and more diverse forms.  Plants, ants, beetles, fish, mice, dinosaurs, cats and dogs, monkeys, apes, humans.  

John tells us that Christ was the origin of life.  In the logos was life, and that life is the light of all humanity.  I suspect that’s because humanity not only lives life, but we also seek to understand it.  

In an age when we have figured out so much about the essential structure of things in physics and the intricate functions of things in biology, an age when we have delved deep into the geology of our own world and have begun to poke into crust of other planets, it’s tempting to think we can explain esoteric things like existence without God in the equation.  But one of the beauties of real science is that the more we learn, the more we realize there is so much more that we don’t know.  Those who dive deepest soon realize there is no bottom, no stopping point, because they have thrown themselves into the mystery of existence.  As Werner Heisenberg said, “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.” 

The word Christ, Christos, means anointed.  John is telling us that through the logos,through Christ, all of creation is anointed with, infused with the presence of God.  As Saint Paul said, God is never far from us because “in him we live and move and have our being.”[1]  Saint Patrick understood this intimate and inescapable presence of Christ when he prayed: 

“Christ with me, Christ before me, 

Christ behind me, Christ in me, 

Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me.”[2] 

Then entire physical universe is where God hides…but it’s also where God is revealed.  God is not “up there” somewhere—well, not only “up there”—God is right here.  Christ is in you.  Christ is in me.  That is what Jesus, the Christ is all about.  Jesus came to show us that God is with us.  In us. Working through us.  “We spend so much time trying to get “up there,” says Richard Rohr, “we miss that God’s big leap in Jesus was to come “down here.” So much of our worship and religious effort is the spiritual equivalent of trying to go up what has become the down escalator.”[3]

Once we really accept the idea that through Christ God is present in all of creation, the world becomes “home, safe, enchanted, offering grace to any who look deeply.”[4]  The Webb Space Telescope will be looking deeply. It may even be able to see as far as the dawn of creation. There’s no telling what we will learn.  But whatever it shows us, it will simply be telling us more about Christ, in whom we live and move and have our being.


[1] Acts 17:28

[2] Prayer of St. Patrick, 5th century

[3] Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For and Believe

[4] Ibid. 

Immersed in Wonder

“I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

– Mark 1:8

Not long ago I saw a picture of a Pandemic baptism.  The mother was holding up her baby while the pastor stood about eight feet away next to the font and aimed a squirt gun at the baby.  So, ten points for creativity during the pandemic!  

I wonder what the writer or writers of the Didache would have thought of that.  The Didache is a small book of instruction for the Christian faithful written around the year 100.  It was called the Didache, meaning The Twelve, because it was assumed that the teachings in it were handed down by the twelve apostles.  Here’s what the it says about baptism:  “And concerning baptism,  baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,  in living water (running water). But if you do not have living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”  It seems clear that the Didache calls us to adapt as circumstances dictate, so maybe in these circumstances where we are required to maintain physical distance to help stop the Corona virus, the writer of the Didache would be just fine with a water pistol baptism as long as it’s done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Some people want to insist that the only valid baptism is by immersion.  They point out that our verb to baptize comes from the Greek word baptidzo, which means “to immerse.”  They’re right about that–  baptidzo does mean “to immerse.”  But it’s also the word that’s used to describe sprinkling dressing on your salad.  And as the Didache makes clear, three splashes of water on the head in the name of the triune God is adequate if that’s what you’re equipped to do or if that’s what circumstances dictate.  It’s not the amount of water that matters, it’s the power of the Word of God in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But let’s stick with the idea of immersing for a moment.  In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says, “Go make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them—immersing them—in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  If we simply reduce that to a formula for a baptismal ritual, I think we are missing the entire point of what he was calling us to do.  

Jesus is calling us to make disciples and be disciples who are immersed in the life and love, the eternal relationship, of the triune God.  Jesus is calling us to dive deep into that relationship with the Trinity and to draw others in with us.  At the same time, Jesus is calling us to enter into a deeper relationship with humanity, with all peoples.  All nations.  Panta ta ethne it says in the Greek.  All the ethnicities.

When Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan, it was both an incarnational and a trinitarian moment.  Jesus, fully human and fully divine enters into the water, immerses himself into the physical reality of this world, accompanied by the Holy Spirit and with the Father’s voice of affirmation ringing in his heart.  He immerses himself into all the joys and beauty and intricate complexity of the earth and at the same time into all the suspicion, harshness, competition and misunderstanding.  He immerses himself into water, the element that is essential to sustain us and can also kill us, the element that can enrich us with a bountiful harvest or destroy us with chaotic storms.  He immerses himself in life as we live it. 

He rises from the water to begin his ministry of proclaiming the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven, to teach us in the middle of our chaotic lives about God’s boundless grace and endless love, and to show us that there is a pathway through the chaos.  And he calls us to follow, to enter the mystery with him, and bring others along with us.

Baptism reminds us that we are enlisted in a cosmic drama and that the stakes are high.

These are the questions we ask before we profess our faith in the rite of baptism:

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?

Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?

Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?

They sound archaic and mythic, these questions, but they are worth serious thought.  They are a clue that in our baptism we are entering into mysteries that are deeper and older than what most of the world is used to observing or thinking about.  These questions remind us that there are forces at work behind the scenes, that evil is sinister and insidious and seductive and deceptive.

But this is where we have to be very cautious.  We find stories with these “behind the scenes” elements attractive, and if we’re not careful we can easily become paranoid and fall prey to conspiracy theories.  We can find ourselves manipulated and dragged down dangerous rabbit holes through lies, rumors, half-truths and misdirection.  We can get good and evil confused with each other.  Martin Luther noted this in the Heidelberg Disputation when he wrote, “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.  A theologian of the cross call the thing what it actually is.”

We saw how out of hand this can get this week when a mob, misled and spurred on by outrageous claims made by Q-Anon and baseless assertions of voter fraud made by the president and others, attacked the capitol building in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College ballots.  I’m sure many, maybe most of them believed their cause was right and just, that they were standing against evil.  But they had been misled.  Manipulated.  And so they became tools in an act of desecration.

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that St. Paul listed in 1 Corinthians 12:10 is the discernment of spirits.  Let me ask you—what spirit did you see at work in that riot?  I, for one, did not see any spirit of righteousness in a Confederate flag, a blatant symbol of racism being paraded through the rotunda. I did not discern anything holy in a face-painted, shirtless man with horns on his head defiling the sacred chambers of deliberation where our laws are made.

Baptism means we renounce calls to violence.  Baptism means we renounce white supremacy and racism.  Baptism means we renounce rumor and falsehood.  It means we speak truth and name a thing what it is. 

Baptism means our hearts break when we see sacred spaces profaned, when we see our common halls of deliberation desecrated by thoughtless frenzy and anger.  

Baptism means we work to restore what has been damaged, especially relationships. 

To be baptized also means, though, that we swim in a sea of grace.  It means that when we lose our sense of self or become too full of ourselves, we have a place to come home to, a loving Abba who reminds us of who we really are, a God who helps us find our true self hidden in Christ.

“The grace of God,” wrote Buechner, “means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”

Baptism gives us identity.  It anoints us as children of God and at the same time reminds us that we are siblings in our humanity.  It reminds us that we have a responsibility to God, to the world and to each other.  Baptism reminds us that our lives are in each other’s hands. 

Baptism is not a one-time event.  It is a way of life.  Baptism is not fire insurance.  We don’t baptize babies so that if, God forbid, something awful should happen they won’t go to hell.  We baptize them so that they can be immersed from the very beginning in a life where they are always seeing and experiencing the presence of God, ideally within the family of faith—with the community of all those sisters and brothers who have also been given what St. Paul calls “a spirit of adoption.”  We baptize adults because it is never too late to begin that new life as God’s child, never too late to become a new creation, never too late to receive that “spirit of adoption,” never too late to be embraced by and enfolded into the family of faith.

In baptism we live in a covenant with God and with the family of faith.  The water and the Word seal our vow to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

Baptism means I try to live peaceably with all, so far as it depends on me.  It means that I try to bring to the world love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Because we are baptized, we try to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that’s not always easy because sometimes our neighbors are prickly and abrasive and unlovable.  Still, we try to love them.  We try to understand why they’re prickly and abrasive and unlovable.  We pray for them and ask God to heal whatever pain makes them put on such harsh armor against the world or we ask God to break through whatever illusion they’re living under. 

“If we are to love our neighbors,” wrote Frederick Buechner, “before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.” 

To be baptized is to see the world with new eyes.  To be baptized is to see that it is a world of wonder moving through a cosmos full of wonder.  To be baptized is to marvel at the astonishing work of God conducting the dance of stars, planets and gravitational waves, to see God as the inscrutable force of intent in quantum mechanics.  To be baptized is to see life in all its fullness, the good and the bad, to immerse yourself in it as Christ did, and to love it.

Baptism means you understand that life is a gift, and you have reached out to accept it.  In Jesus’ name.

How Are You Translating?

For this is how God loved the world—all of it, everything: God gave God’s unique son so that everyone who trusts into him need not be destroyed but may have eternal life. For God did not send this son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be made whole through him. – John 3:16-17 (my translation)

I know.  That’s not the way your Bible says it.  It’s not the way my Bibles say it, either.  I have several.  It goes with the job.  No, that’s not the way it reads in your Bible or mine, but it is a perfectly legitimate translation from the ancient Greek text.

So how does it sound to you, this word about the Word in different words?  Does “trust into him” make you pause?  Before you mentally substituted the more familiar “believe in him” did you stop to think about the difference?  What do you mean when you say “believe?”  Is there a difference between believing as intellectual affirmation versus trusting?  Can you believe in someone but still not trust them with your life?  What’s the difference between in and into?  Subtle, that one.  But doesn’t in sound more like stasis, something settled, while into is more of an ongoing process?  Why do so many translations say condemn when the Greek word most frequently means to judge.  True, it can mean condemn, but why leap to that?  Oh, and saved.  Such an interesting, interesting word.  Sozo in Greek.  It can mean to be rescued, to be made safe, to be removed from danger, but its oldest meaning is to be healed, to be made whole.

So how do you prefer to hear it?  Heard one way it can be about God’s plan for fire insurance of the eternal kind. Heard another way it can be a message about God’s intervention to heal this world, all of us and everything else.  Which translation speaks to you?

How are you translating the world around you?  How are you translating the other people you encounter in life?  How are you translating yourself?

“Love one another as I have loved you,” says Jesus, later in the Gospel of John.  He makes it a commandment of all things.  Really loving each other involves learning to really hear each other and see each other. David Augsburger wrote, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” To love you, I need to hear you.  To love me, you need to hear me.  We need to translate each other accurately.  To do that we each need to know something about how the other person is translating the world and interpreting their experience.

We are not looking at the world through the same eyes or hearing it through the same ears, but if, when we disagree, we stop to ask why we are seeing and hearing things so differently—if we take the first step in translating each other—then we’re taking the first steps in loving each other.  If nothing else, paying close attention to those around us can teach us all kinds of interesting things, even when they are not being particularly relational. “I learned silence from the talkative and tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind,” wrote Khalil Gibran.  And that’s love, too.